For some reason, I feel compelled to talk about hokum. I have been pondering that word a lot. It is a blended word, a combination of hocus pocus and bunkum. That is the etymology anyway. The definition is a device used by showmen (carnies and the like) to evoke a desired response or pretentious nonsense. It has a negative connotation. And I am about to drive the etymologists crazy.
The glass is either half empty or half full (or, I suppose it could have a slow leak). I definitely fall into the half full camp. And I focus on the first part of the origins of Hokum. Hocus pocus. Magic.
When I think of a situation that contains hokum, I think of Jubilation T. Cornpone, or Aunt Bea, or church ladies. People who live their lives according some rather standard, and sadly, largely arcane principles involving charity, commandments, and minding one’s own business — until necessary.
I moved from Chicago to a small town in a galaxy far far away. Certainly, most of my friends and neighbors thought we had completely lost our minds. After all, my family had been in Chicago since 1880.
And when I moved here, with all my ingrained, big city cultural presets, I ran straight into hokum. I had warped straight into Mayberry. Culture shock does not begin to explain.
As I walked around town, I saw people greet anyone that passed on the street. More often than not, they would stop and chat, at least for a moment or two. Whenever I was traveling home in my subdivision or down a county road, ANYONE coming the other direction would wave at me. Why were they waving at me? I didn’t know any of these people! What was the deal? The gas station in town still pumps the gas for you AND cleans the windows! The pharmacist, though working for a large national chain, asks after my family. How am I settling in?
I was very disconcerted by this behavior, having been used to an urban distance. A “How are you doing?” without waiting or caring about the answer. It was unnerving and felt invasive.
But that is the hocus pocus of hokum. It draws you into a town you didn’t even know existed and I (I am ashamed to admit) would have looked down your nose at and shows you a world you thought was long gone. A world where, if you are a child, and your neighbor sees you doing something wrong, you know you are going to get “it” twice. Once from the neighbor and once from your parents whom the neighbor will immediately notify as an unasked teammate concerned for your safety. No lawyers will be consulted.
If you are stranded by the side of the road, multiple folks will stop to assist. When my son blew a tire on the way to school, the tow truck driver drove him to school so he would get to state testing on time. When the transmission went out on the kid car, the transmission mechanic had no problem letting us pick up the car — and let us drop the check off a week later. My neighbor has plowed me out more times than I can count.
Semi formal means your cowboy boots and jeans are clean. Leave the twenty four button gloves at home. Bolo ties are allowed.
The Masonic lodge is a happening place. The Chophouse is packed most evenings. The barber shop is the place to hear the latest scuttlebutt. I haven’t heard anyone shouted down for expressing their opinions since I moved here.
I don’t paint this as a portrait of perfection. But it makes me realize what we have been allowing to fade from our cultural principles. A loss of the values that are the glue of society. I don’t think a return to Mayberry automatically advocates the negatives that we have overcome. The fifties and sixties certainly had their dark sides. Free love is neither. Tolerance is a good and essential thing to demand in our society.
Let’s leave the bunkum behind. But let’s make a case for bringing back some hokum.